Student work: Fall haiku

I propose to students, in this exercise, that haiku as form (three lines of 5 7 5 syllables) is less helpful to us than haiku as genre (quick bright trace of an instant of perception), and invite them to let their poems be absolutely simple.

They work gamely at it but often the temptation of complication maintains its hold. So when their haiku come in, I pick one by each student and pare it back to the bare bones of perception I sense in it. Not to edit their poems but to model a process.

Then I ask them to do likewise with the other four. Doubled up on a verb? Pick the one right one. Added texture with an adjective or an adverb? Try getting rid of it. Straining somewhere for effect? Lighten your touch. Be absolutely simple. Tap into everything a word is and does.

Here are some of the results, which I think are quite lovely, with their edits retained, when they made some.

          An apple
rots from rain,
          never picked.

          This field —
six feet high, dizzy
          dried and dead.

Gray fur coats
the carpet, as the cat
sheds away the summer.


black dirt speckles
cell blocks in knotted veins
an alligator‘s skin

          Wind eats silence
with whistle and whimper
          debris takes flight.

          Dew crowns blades of grass —
Regal autumn mornings rise,
          No one is awake.

One hour,
stowed away,
for what?

Crop burning fills
lungs with harvest air.
I am displaced.

Rain, rain,
go away —
or don’t.

In the old, blue, houses
          the moisture pleads,
“Can I borrow your coat?”

Even on the sea
leaves of fall
          find me

Black pavement
littered with gold,
trees shed their skin.

moon at its fullest,
leaves float.

          squirrel cracks open
an acorn on the floor
          Basho’s head rolls out

          Rich gravy runs
over white mountains
          on to burnt tongues.

A crow
from the rotting pumpkin
raises a cry.

          Golds litter wet ground,
The bronze moment of the year
          For which I was named.

The day the dead rise,
one night of freedom.
They want candy.

One pumpkin
half dead from of frost
earth eager for earth.

          Inside the bus —
under boots,
          the painful heat wrenches my skin.

          The bus stop —
wet leaves
          on toes.

scents of green
hollowed out skies
rain is falling

The leaves recorded
Eyes are video cameras
switched to on standby

The wind
pushes against the walls
house creaks

Raindrops onto
A red bridge over
Blue waves.

Gravity pulls
Leaves succumb
Trees bare all

Dried roots
Rotten Memories
Snaps of ginger

Uprising mushrooms
Puddles gathering round
Fall mornings

The crunch of leaves
gives way to the coming rain
and soak filled groans.

leaves the rain

block my view
of plants.

Student work: Phone number poems

Some phone number poems by my students. Tinkered to keep their actual phone numbers private! Again I’m struck by how good these are, how dynamic the line breaks, and compact the thought of them.

A clock,

Four chimes until sun
Hung lonely on a barroom wall
Tick tock.
Red eyes, crooked spine
Twelve drinks until the night shift starts,
It’s only cycles
Tick tock.

What did you
do to make them so mad?

Insult their baking skills?
Or was it something worse? You
can tell me.

I said their baby was handsome.
Turns out, it’s a girl.

To be
just what I wanted
in the past, then
and now

falling down
getting up
just how I

Hello there
I first saw you last night

Your face was set by moon light
Salty misty
On the beach a glimpse of your
Red hair.
Hello there, if I may
I am in love with a silhouette.

Where is
my cat?
Is she hiding?
She hides in cupboards
She is an elusive ghosty.
floats around my
like a spook.

Well well well,
Lookie what we have here.

An ambassador from my
hometown. You thought I’d left?

Still here.
I called finders keepers on
steering a bike with just one finger.

She sings as if it were life

She sighs soft songs
as if it were sad-
ness her
voice silences
the audience that
comes for her sweet sighing
of song

Can’t sleep.

I guess I rarely do.
I’m trying to keep my promise.
I wish I could call,
I need your help.
He needs brothers.
The rain comes more often than it did.
They tore down the place you saved me.

I saw

no I have not seen it
I dreamt it sleeping sideways
on route to somewhere white
I had not yet an understanding
of what pictures could mean
I just felt you through the glass door
say nothing of truth
I know

Exercise: Phone number poem

From our unit on the line.

Write a poem using your own phone number, with area code, as the template. Specifically, the number of syllables in each line should match the corresponding number in your phone number. If your area code is 360, the first line has three syllables, the second line has six, and the third line is blank (a stanza break).

The poem should read naturally—as if it just took this shape of its own accord. Don’t worry about the subject, let the form lead you where it will. An example:


How did you                                         3
find your way to this place?                   6
Oh, I was just thinking                          6
one day about toads,                          5
toads that look like stones, stones     6
that are toads                                                  3
when no one’s looking                          5
at them at all.                                    4

Not anyone’s actual number. Exercise adapted from Janet Burroway’s Imaginative Writing. Image up top is cropped from Kenneth Patchen’s “Imagine Seeing.”

Patchen – Imagine
In “The Argument of Innocence” (1976)

Imagine a rotary phone with 16 digits to range among. A computer dreams in hexadecimal . . .